The challenges of distance learning



Many universities now use videoconferencing to provide distance education.

However, the work of Patrick Giroux, a researcher in the Department of Educational Sciences at Université du Québec à Chicoutimi, has shown that "distance learners" have a very different learning experience than that provided by a traditional education. The main drawback of this new teaching method is that the distance learners' ability to pay attention declines rapidly, while providing them with breaks does not appear to have a positive effect on their lack of concentration.

The main drawback of this new teaching method is that the distance learners' ability to pay attention declines rapidly.

As they become aware of this issue, many teachers are developing strategies to address it. Some divide their three-hour classes into three sessions of one hour a day. This technique works wonders when it comes to attention span, but increases absenteeism, because of the difficulty in accommodating the availability of all students. Other teachers offer a concentrated course format, such as two three-hour classes per day over the course of three weekends. Educational activities also play an important role. Teachers increase the number of  exercises to be done at home; post course notes, recordings of their lectures or quizzes on line; or organize internet-based discussion forums. These activities have a positive impact on learning, but increase the teachers' workload. Patrick Giroux's work is the subject of a chapter in TIC, technologies émergentes et Web 2.0: quels impacts en éducation? and was presented at the Association for Teacher Education in Europe Winter Conference held in Genoa, Italy.